As well as having three goals to cheer, the Celtic fans could also hail the return of last season’s player of the year as Emilio Izaguirre made his comeback after breaking his ankle in August.
The full-back did little to disrupt Celtic’s attacking intentions and featured as much in the Dunfermline box as he did in his own half during a lively ten minute cameo at the end.
It was a wretched start to the new year for Dunfermline, who must continue to search out their first home league victory of the campaign. The on-going struggles being experienced by Hibernian does at least give them some hope in their battle to avoid relegation but they will have to stop conceding goals so freely at home. The tally now stands at 13 in their last four league games at East End Park.
The hosts were their typical generous selves yesterday as first-footers Celtic made it ten league victories in a row.
Dunfermline had no answer to their fire power, although, yet again, they made it harder for themselves. Any new resolution to tighten up at the back has already come unstitched.
The quality of Celtic’s goals can not disguise the carelessness with which they were conceded by Jim McIntyre’s side, particularly the second which saw Victor Wanyama allowed to volley home at the back post while unchallenged following Charlie Mulgrew’s free kick. All three goals had their source in set-pieces.
Anthony Stokes handed Celtic the lead with an outstanding finish following a corner and the in-form Mulgrew wrapped things up from a free-kick after 69 minutes.
The visitors’ game-plan was clear from the start. Gary Hooper was reunited with Stokes in attack but there was still also room for Georgios Samaras, who played wide on the left. On the opposite flank could be found James Forrest, who some regard as Scotland’s most exciting player at present.
It was difficult to see how Dunfermline could hope to cope with all this. The hosts had, after all, conceded ten goals in their last three home league matches, with Aberdeen and St Johnstone allowed to plunder three goals each.
McIntryre’s complaints have often centred on his defence and they had their work cut out again yesterday afternoon. The manager again lamented his side’s failure to clear their lines afterwards.
To be fair, Dunfermline looked limited in all areas. The away fans took the majority of the seats and the visitors dominated possession. The north stand’s turnstiles were unlocked for this particular game, supplementing the area behind the goal reserved for away fans.
This stand was closed earlier this season in a cost-cutting exercise. It allowed the Celtic fans to chorus back and forth to each other as they celebrated the lead given to them by Stokes after 17 minutes.
It was a delightful finish by the re-called striker, who controlled the ball with his left foot and then curled a shot into the top corner of the net with his right. The chance, if that is what it was, had come after a Mulgrew cross, from a short corner, had caused yet further problems in the Dunfermline box. Samaras played his part too, heading the ball down for Stokes. But the Irishman still had it all to do. It seems obligatory to mention Alex McLeish’s goal for Aberdeen in their Scottish Cup final defeat of Rangers in 1982 as a reference point, or, perhaps, Stokes’ compatriot Ronnie Whelan’s curled strike for Liverpool in the Milk Cup final against Manchester United a year later.
Although an exquisite finish, Wanyama had a go at bettering it just a few minutes later when thundering a 30-yard volley towards goal. Chris Smith managed to beat it away but it was yet another moment to make Dunfermline fret.
The hosts did make advances up field but tended to panic when venturing near the Celtic goal. Martin Hardie side-footed an effort past the post after 37 minutes. But Celtic then extended their lead five minutes before half-time. Samaras won a free-kick and Mulgrew flighted in a tempting ball to the back post. Somehow, the cross made it there without being intercepted by a Dunfermline head and Wanyama sent a controlled volley into the net. To their credit, the home team found an immediate reaction, despite their dismay at losing yet another soft goal.
Just a minute later Paul Burns broke into the box but his angled shot was well saved by Fraser Forster. It was Dunfermline’s best chance of the half and was perhaps their last opportunity to haul themselves back into the game. Hardie did send another effort wide of one of Forster’s post after 67 minutes but, two minutes later, Celtic seized the goal that had been coming, though McIntyre will again despair at it having come from a distance of 25 yards. Mulgrew’s free-kick, following a tug on Wanyama, should not have beaten Smith. The swirling conditions did appear to contribute to the ball’s movement in the air but Smith was still angry enough with himself to beat his fists against the turf. The goalkeeper redeemed himself with some decent saves late on. One tip-over from Forrest was particularly memorable. Dunfermline’s day was summed up when substitute Joe Cardle’s goal-bound volley was blocked by his team-mate and fellow substitute Andy Kirk.